For the second game in a row, the Minnesota Vikings will be going up against a team from the AFC West that runs a 3-4 defense with plenty of man coverage. They played the Denver Broncos in Week 4 of the season and were able to do a lot of positives things through the air, even though the Broncos had the No. 1 defense in the NFL.
Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater completed 27 of 41 passes for 269 yards and a touchdown. He was also able to throw the ball all around the field, completing passes to six different receivers. All of that was without two of his top targets, Jarius Wright and Charles Johnson.
The team then had a bye the next week so they had extra time to prepare for their next opponents, the Kansas City Chiefs and there are a lot of similarities between the Chiefs and Broncos on defense, but also some things they do differently.
“Obviously they’ve got two good edge rushers and they play a lot of man-to-man,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “They’re very stout up front in the middle. Linebackers are fast, but they have a few more fronts than probably Denver did.”
One important part of this is the fact that both teams play mostly man coverage. The Vikings did well against that going up against the Broncos, and the Chiefs secondary hasn’t been as good as the Broncos. The Chiefs have given up more passing touchdowns (13) than any other team in the NFL and have given up the sixth-most passing yards per game (284.6).
The Chiefs also have a rookie cornerback in Marcus Peters starting on their defense. Cornerback is one of the most difficult positions to play when switching from college to the NFL and for that reason teams will often try to attack them early and often.
“I think he’s a very good player,” Zimmer said of Peters. “He’s a very, very good athlete. I probably won’t comment on any exploitation things to be honest with you.”
Going up against that rookie and the man coverage the Chiefs run is something the Vikings receivers will likely try to take advantage of, especially since their receivers seem to love facing man coverage. That includes Mike Wallace, who feels as though he can win any battle if it is one on one.
“When it’s man coverage, you can tell me to run any route and I’m confident I can get open,” he said. “Honestly, I feel like nobody can take me one on one. Nobody. So if it’s man versus man, this game is really about winning one-on-one matchups. I feel real confident that I can win every time, if not most of the time, at least 90 percent of the time. Man to man, I love it.”
Johnson feels the same way about man coverage as Wallace does. He enjoys going up against it and feels like it is a lot easier for him to play his game because he doesn't have to worry as much about what the defense is doing against him.
“I mean, you don’t have to worry about a zone defender dropping underneath you in your holes and you know it’s man versus man,” Johnson said. “Who’s going to win? That’s what I thrive on.”
If the Vikings are able to keep Bridgewater clean – he was sacked seven times against the Broncos – then there should be stuff open downfield against the Chiefs. They were able to win the battles against the Broncos’ man coverage, so why would the same not be the case against the Chiefs?
That is not exactly how offensive coordinator Norv Turner sees it. He thinks that you have to look at each defensive unit as an individual entity and not compare different ones to each other, no matter how similar they may be.
“I think you attack all defenses differently. I really don’t have a preference and I don’t know that they would, in terms of how to attack,” he said. “You just go play and if you’re a good player you have the ability to be successful against any look.”
Even though the Chiefs run a lot of man coverage, it is not the only thing they run. Like every team, they will try to mix in some zone and other types of coverage, but when they do line up in man don’t be surprised if the Vikings try to take advantage of it.